The Decline Of Western Civilization: Black Flag

the decline of western civilization

Punk rock. I blame Todd Danielson.  In eighth grade, I liked him, and he liked the Ramones. To impress him, I bought the only Ramones album I could find- the soundtrack to Rock and Roll High School, which started me on the Road to Ruin.  We wound up going on two dates: the Ramones at the Henry J. Kaiser, and the Decline of Western Civilization. But that was it, I never talked to Todd again as we went off to different high schools.

The movie introduced me to Black Flag.  The next year I dragged my high school boyfriend, Maury, to the 10th St Hall to see them play- Black Flag, Flipper, the Minutemen and the Stains. I don’t really remember much about the music except that it was loud and fast. We were harassed about our hair and clothes, knowing nothing about the “uniforms” of punk rock. Maury was pretty appalled by the whole experience, and probably hates punk rock to this day. I think he got tired of being dragged to Ingmar Bergman and Andy Warhol films, and eventually we broke up. He later went out with the most normal, boring girl in our class. I don’t blame him for wanting to be with someone who liked romantic comedies and listened to Rick Springfield. You don’t get spit on in that crowd.

black flag at 10th st hall

Then Slip It In came out.  When I met Tom he was seriously into Damaged and the Six pack EP. He was more of a Dez fan; but I loved Henry. I didn’t come to appreciate Dez until years later.  Henry was good looking, he was angry, and his songs were about sexual frustration and hypocrisy, which at the time I responded to more than songs about depression and drugs.

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So, we loved Black Flag- the band who launched a unique sound, who toured when no one  else did, and who had their own record label.  Short Dogs Grow was just hatching- we had only played one abortive show at the Sound Of Music. Tom had set his height higher and he was a natural salesmen. I was at work when I got the call.

“Mellie, guess who’s playing at the Farm?”

“Who?”

“Black Flag!”

I was excited, I hadn’t seen them with Kira, their new bass player, who also happened to be female ( a phenomenon in the 80s).

“Guess who is opening for them ?”

It had to some other SST bands. “The Descendents? No,wait,  the Meat Puppets?”

“No, Short Dogs Grow is opening for them. We are opening for them. On the same stage. At the Farm.”

I was in shock. Tom had gotten us on the gig- we would not be paid, but WHO CARES WE WERE OPENING FOR BLACK FLAG!

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(flyer for the gig, unfortunately we weren’t on it)

We only had about 10 songs at the time. At the gig, we got through about 8 of them by jumping around and making lots of noise. I took a few too many steps backyards and wound up falling down the back stairs of the stage. I was lying in a heap, bass on top of me, and discovered I had pulled all the electronics out. The only other person back there was Greg Ginn. He walked over towards me, looked down at the bass, and said one word.

“Bummer.”

Mortified, I ran back up the stairs. The band went on to play the last two songs without me. I was heartbroken, but later all our drunk friends (i.e. the only people who had been there to see us) said we were great. Needless to say, we didn’t get signed to SST that night.

We did get signed later to Rough Trade and did a few U.S. tours. By then Henry Rollins had left Black Flag and put together the Rollins band. We played with them a few times.  They guys in his band were fun and friendly when Rollins was not around. Greg Foot even managed to get them to drink a beer with him (not cool in the Rollins camp.) Rollins would sit in his van and do bicep curls, and kids would ask him for his autograph.  Apparently I once ran into the backstage while Rollins was completely naked, but I didn’t get to see who had the 9 and 1/2.

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We played a certain club in Florida which looked like the set of a Blues Brother’s movie. The stage was completely encased in chicken wire, spurring jokes about  “both kinds of music, Country and Western!” The promoter called for a meeting with all band members present. He told us that this was the last space in this town that would let him, or anyone else, put on shows. He understood the lameness of the chicken wire, but that was club policy, and he had put down a huge deposit.  Under no circumstances was anyone to fuck with the wire.  If anyone messed with the wire NO ONE, REPEAT NO ONE, WOULD BE PAID THAT NIGHT.  Most of us were starving on the road. It really was “36 dollars and a six pack to my name.” The promoter was cool- so we were cool.  The Dough Boys opened and they were cool. M.I.A were cool. The Descendents were cool.

Rolling gets on stage and about three notes in, he takes his fist and smashes it through the wire. My heart sank. As cool as it looked, I knew we would be leaving with no money that night, and we were broke. Most likely one of us would be calling home for cash.  By the end of his set, Rollins had pulled down the entire cage.

While I was packing up the remains of our stuff, Tom handed me an envelope with something like a $100 in it,  BIG MONEY in those days. The promoter had paid him, and one of the Dough Boys. He said we were cool, had nothing to do with Rollins’ actions and shouldn’t be punished for the Decline of “Country and Western!” Civilization. The rest of the money was going to the club to play for the chicken coop, and an attempt to save punk rock for the youth of Florida.

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On Tour with The Descendents

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Pop quiz!

Where you were when you first heard the Descendents?

Which song?

How old were you?

I bet we can all ace this one.  I was nineteen years old, in Tom’s room at Pierce Street and the first song I heard was Silly Girl. We were lying on a mattress sitting directly on the floor, surrounded by empty Budweiser cans filled with cigarette butts, blowing smoke rings at the flies circling overhead,and listening to I Don’t Want To Grow Up.  The punk rock Southern Californian Beach Boys- who couldn’t relate to the angst of “Bikage” and the longing of “Hope”?

Not long after this, we opened for them at the Farm. I think this might have been the show where I hit Marc in the head with my bass and one of the tuning pegs cut him deeply. His girlfriend took him two blocks down the street to General Hospital (conveniently situated near the premier punk rock venue in town) to get stitches, and he was back in time to see the Descendents. A guy from Thrasher magazine took a picture of me jumping off the drum riser.  In the next issue Thrasher printed it with the caption that I was the new bass player for the Descendents.

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“The Descendents blast bombed the Farm recently sporting a new female bass player”

On our first tour we managed to pick up crabs by the time we got to El Paso where we were about to open for them.  As soon as they pull up to the club in their van and got out, Tom yells to Ray “HEY RAY WE’VE ALL GOT CRABS!!” I was completely mortified. Ray ducked into their van and pulled out some industrial strength Kwell and offered it to Tom.  Tom told him we’d already zapped the bugs earlier in the day, but I think Ray made Tom take the bottle, “Just in case”. I spent the rest of the night avoiding Ray because I was so embarrassed that he knew.

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Milo attempts to kidnap me in the French Quarter.

We met up again with them in New Orleans. I remember wearing a pink halter dress with blue flowers and Milo actually said “that’s a really nice, pretty dress you’re wearing.”  Inside the club I was looking around the stage for a place to plug the amps in, and Bill Stevenson chased me around the stage with a flashlight, telling me he was going to get a peek at my underwear. I finally went and changed into shorts and a tank top to discourage the pubescent antics.

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Milo sports his Short Dogs Grow T-shirt at the hottest gig on the planet- midday, 4th of July, New Orleans.

They did have some homophobic lyrics, which surprised me as they didn’t seem like that to me. I saw recently that Milo said he wrote the song “I’m Not A Loser” when he was 17 and has apologized for the content. I’ve also heard they don’t play it anymore, maybe someone who saw them at the World Cup show can comment on that.des2 001sdg descendents farmdes 001rkl 001 rool 001

Punk Rock Prom and beyond..Rancid and Green Day

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Rancid’s 21st anniversary show was last week. This triggered many thoughts of “Another East Bay Night”…..

 

My friend Aaron didn’t have a date to the Berkeley High prom, and being a budding historian, felt that he would be missing out on an important phase of youth if he didn’t attend.  While I disagreed with his motives, I offered to go with him to document the moment.  We met up with his friend who had dragged Tim along as her date. He was pretty drunk by the time they arrived and didn’t want to dance. He gave me a Basic Radio tape, and kept saying we should go out to the limo and listen to it.  That sounded like a lot more fun than being at the prom, but I didn’t want to let Aaron down.   A few years later I went to see Death Angel at Nightbreak, and it was sold out, so I wound up hanging out with Tim (who couldn’t get in anyway because he was underage), sitting on the curb between cars and drinking beer. A few days later someone (Greg Foot?) told me that I’d been spotted making out with a young guy on Haight Street.  Making out in public is not really my M.O. I figured someone must have seen me with Tim and gotten the wrong idea.  Many years after that I ran into Tim when I was with Gary Indiana at the Bammies at the Warfield, and he told me that I have been present at the two weirdest moments of his life- the prom and being nominated for an award (both fairly non punk rock events).  I thought,  wait, what about the time when we made out at Death Angel????

 

I’ve never met Lars, but I stood next to him at the Parkside for a while.  I was selling Psychology of Genocide t-shirts and he was selling Agnostic Front t-shirts. Well, I wasn’t really selling shirts because no one was buying any. He was incredibly busy. I’m not sure if everyone on the planet wanted an Agnostic Front shirt that night, or if everyone wanted to buy something from LARS FROM RANCID.  A guy with many tattoos sat down next to me and started chatting. He asked if I wanted a beer and I said, no thanks, I don’t drink. He told me that he used to be sober but that he was experimenting with heroin again. I asked him how the experiment was going.  “Not too well” he answered seriously. I mentioned that he might want to talk to Lars about that. He said he had, and Lars didn’t think too much of his experiment either.

 I ran upstairs to the backstage room and when I opened the door 10 or so tatted out skinhead dudes stopped talking and looked at me.  “I, uh, I’m just here to use the loo” I stammered. Roger Miret said, “What do we have here?” and I thought he was going to pull a knife on me or something. Then he said “Ah, a New York Doll” and smiled and nodded his head. I smiled back, confused,  and edged towards the bathroom. When I got inside, I saw in the mirror that he had been acknowledging my NY Dolls t-shirt.

 

post prom run-in

GREEN DAY:

I was taking BART home from Berkeley and Aaron (of the prom) got on my train.  He smelled really, really bad and everyone was moving away from him.  Except me.  “Coming home from tour?” I asked. Only being homeless or being on tour with a punk rock band can make you smell that bad (I know from experience. When I came home from my first tour my boyfriend said I smelled like I’d been sleeping in a dumpster).  Yes, he answered.  He’d been out for a very long time with Green Day.  He used to be their roadie, and I want to say he played drums with them for a while, but I could be wrong there.

Many years later I was at a Paul Westerberg show and I saw Billy Joe.  People were asking for autographs and stuff and my friend got caught up in it and said, don’t you know him? Go say hi. I’d never me the dude, but I wound up standing next to him a bit later, so I turned and said “Is Aaron here?” He looked surprised and said ” I left him a ticket at the door, but you know how he is.” And then he said “You’re Carmela from Short Dogs Grow!”. I was shocked and told him he had a great memory. He said he remembered me from Gilman Street.  And then some more fans came over (his, not mine :)), so I was able to make a quick escape.

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What Do You Want From Live?

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I must have been thirteen when the Tubes played their “Haul of Fame” show at the Old Waldorf. I guess the Tubes were tired of the lugging about their big stage production of platform shoes, whips, and motorcycles. They had decided to do one last show with all the props, and I had to see Quay Lewd before he retired. I mean, I loved the Tubes.  I even loved Remote Control, their concept album about television, ferchrissakes, produced by Todd Rundgren. Fortune had it that my parents were out of town that weekend.  I was able to go to the show, by myself of course, because I had no friends at that point that were into any kind of non-mainstream music. So there I was, a thirteen year old girl alone at the Old Waldorf-talk about open season for pedophiles.  I shooed a few away, and then luckily a non-threatening guy about age 18-20 sat next to me.  Of course he was a bass player in a band, and they were going to be bigger than the Tubes.  He invited me to see them rehearse.  I had never seen a band rehearse before and thought it would be extremely awesome, you know, rock stars, booze, drugs, a party atmosphere.  He offered me a ride home, but I declined, since it was late and if he tried to kill me nobody would know.  So I told him to pick me up the next day. I managed to lose my keys at the club, thus obliterating the one time I could walk through the front door at 2am, and had to resort to my stand by: crawling through the dog door in the back.  The Tubes were awesome by the way, but I was a little let down by their flippant attitude towards the props.  I was just arriving onto the scene, and the train was leaving the station.

remote control

The guy actually showed up the next day.  My sister answered the door and was like “who are you?” I ran down the stairs and mumbled “Going out..mom and dad said it’s cool..be back in time for dinner” and dragged the guy down the stairs before my sister could really figure out what was going on.  She was 17 and not stupid.  We went to rehearsal and it was incredible!…or should I say incredibly!!….BORING!!!!!. Four guys who barely knew each other, trying to come up with songs. All they could do was talk about how great Bruce Springsteen was (THE BOSS, dude), and how they were going to sound just like the E Street Band. I was the only non-band member there, and there was absolutely nothing for me to do but watch and wince. Every time I heard someone in the hallway I prayed it was Fee Waybill coming to rescue me. The bass guy whacked a tuning fork on the bass’ body and knocked a chip off. I winced more. I showed him how to hold a tuning peg in your mouth so you could hear the frequency in a loud room. I made a mental note never to like Bruce Springsteen (It took 8 years to get over that). I made a mental note to never date a guy in a band (only took about a year to get over that). Finally, “rehearsal” ended. I was over the rock and roll experience by that point and wanted to get away from him AND his boring band. I told him that my sister would kick my ass if I didn’t get home in time for dinner. On the ride home he was fishing for a home cooked dinner invitation. I knew I had to end it with this guy; his band didn’t cut it and there was no way in hell I was sitting through another rehearsal, much less a gig. I had to act fast, so I told him that I was very excited for my 14th birthday party coming up in a couple of weeks, and did he think his band would be ready to play at it?  He turned a little pale and drove a little faster. By the time we got to my house he was telling me about how he was gonna be a rock star, and he couldn’t get tied down to one girl, you know- can’t disappoint the fans. He slowed down just long enough for me to jump out of the car. My sister was at the top of the stairs, “I can’t believe Mom and Dad let you go on car dates. I didn’t get to car date until I was 16 and could drive myself.” “ Hey, just be thankful  you never had to go to band practice,” I snapped back.

Bruce

I talked to Prairie Prince on the phone two years later. He had a listing in BAM that probably was for session work, but I thought he was looking for a band. I told him I’d been playing guitar for a year and was worried that I wasn’t in a band yet (I pretty much thought life ended at 18). He was incredibly sweet, and encouraging.  We talked for about 30 mins, and he suggested that I find people in high school to play with. When I told I didn’t really have any friends at school, I think he understood.  Not that he felt sorry for me, I think he just knew what it was like to be different. He even offered to jam with me. I got scared, so I told him I didn’t know how to drive.”Take a cab.” I think I finally told him I didn’t think I could play well enough. He told me to keep practicing and call him again, but of course I didn’t, although I kept his phone number for years after, just in case I ever got the nerve.

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Prairie Prince, playing with The Cars, 2006

A (New York) Doll’s House

buster poindexter

Once again it was the wee hours of the morning and I was waiting for a flight to LAX for work. There was hardly anyone in the small waiting area.  Next thing I knew, 6 skinny, well dressed, musician-type folk sat down across from me. I instantly recognized David Johansen and his recent version of the New York Dolls, as I had just seen them play a month or so previous.  My eyes bugged out of my head and it was one of those painful “travelling alone” moments when you cannot pinch the person next to you and give the head nod.  So, I did what every punk rock music fan does in these situations- I ran into the bathroom, pulled out my cell phone and called my brother. “Guess who’s waiting for my LAX flight?”  “Who?” “GUESS! GUESS!!!!” He knew it had to be one of my musical idols, but he wasn’t getting close to the mark.  “Give me a hint?” My brother had given me a New York Dolls shirt for Xmas.  “T-shirt” was all I said.  “OH MY GOD! BUSTER POINDEXTER!!”” Only my brother would invoke the alter ego at this point.  “Go up to him and say ‘hot hot hot’!”.  My brother is not shy; he would have sat next to David and talked to him the whole way to L.A. But that’s not my M.O. I did spy a bit. They had just flown from Japan and were making their connection to L.A. They looked very tired and the flight attendant wouldn’t let the guitar player store his guitar in first class. So me, the Dolls and Les Paul all flew coach together. BTW David Johansen is tiny, tiny, tiny.

I went to New York when I was eighteen, just about to turn nineteen.  I wanted to meet The Ramones, David Johansen, The Talking Heads, Johnny Thunders….you know. My first time out of California and first cross country road trip. Being young, we had a loose plan that we would spend the summer with our friends who lived “somewhere in Brooklyn”. I think we knew where one of them worked, but no other info, so when we arrived in NYC we were tired and didn’t have a place to stay.  We needed a hotel with a garage because we had a drive-away car. The only one we found with a room was the Carter Hotel, and I thought it was ridiculously expensive at $50 a night.  As we took the elevator up to the 15th floor, the power went out and the elevator stopped. It was dark, packed with people, and very hot. Sweat was pouring down my sides (New York in June).  A kid next to me yelled out in the darkness,  “WE‘RE ALL GONNA DIE!” I almost fainted. Luckily the power kicked back on and the elevator started chugging its way up to our floor.

After a night of intermittent power and cockroaches, we got rid of the car, and I begged my friend for us to stay in the Hotel Chelsea. It’s where Sid killed Nancy; fulfilling every teens’ “Live fast, die young, punk rock fantasy.”  We got a room for $50 a night, but I didn’t complain. I loved the Chelsea from the minute I got in there….the art in the lobby, the musty smell, and musicians playing guitar in the stairwell.  I asked the next day if there were any cheaper rooms available, because we still hadn’t found our friends.  They gave us one for $30/night, no air conditioning.  I opened the window to get some air and spied a book on the fire escape. The title: Drugs: How They Work and Why.  We found our friends the next day- they had spent the weekend in Martha’s Vineyard. Bitter sweetly,  I left the book on the balcony.

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